Public procurement needs political leadership

2 December 2009
Yesterday I was invited along to a roundtable with the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) deputy director general John Cridland and other key stakeholders in the group's public services strategy board, including Interserve CEO Adrian Ringrose. The discussion was set to focus on the CBI's Pre-Budget submission Doing more with less, but amazingly it was overrun by talk on public procurement despite the subject only forming a small part of the report. There was a definite sense that the profession will be crucial to getting public finances back on track. The CBI recognises there are pockets of extremely good work, but Cridland and colleagues argue there needs be greater competition for contracts, more outcome based agreements and better supplier relationships. Strong political leadership, it was agreed, must spearhead change. Cridland said the government can’t “nibble at the edges”, it must be brave and radical, whichever party wins next year’s general election. The debate makes sense and although these arguments are not new, they bear repeating. I agree that strong political leadership will be essential to making wholesale changes. Ministers are not concerned enough with issues on public spending and must consistently assert calls for improvement. I also believe that public sector buyers can get a hard wrap from the likes of the CBI. There is a great deal of leadership and ambition among the profession’s civil servants.
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